THUNDERBALL (1965)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum & John Hopkins

(based on the novel THUNDERBALL by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Adolfo Celi, Claudine Auger, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter & Bernard Lee

The fourth Bond film and seventh in my 007 retrospective, THUNDERBALL is easily the most violent of the first four Connery entries. It’s also the longest, but remains fast-paced. Sadly, it also follows a basic outline of a story that we’ve already seen before and will see plenty of times again throughout the series. Bond is going after a villain that has a nuclear weapon. That sounds like the textbook motivation for most Bond villains and actually winds up as the biggest detriment to this film. Don’t get me wrong, THUNDERBALL is great fun, but holds little in the way of surprises for 007 fans.

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James Bond has confronted various SPECTRE agents through his previous adventures and finds himself face-to-face with yet another one. Emilio Largo (SPECTRE’s number two agent) has acquired two atomic bombs that he plans on selling to very bad people. Bond is tasked with taking Largo down. However, Largo is not the only SPECTRE agent he will have to contend with as another villain and a seductive villainess try to kill 007 along the way. Meanwhile, Bond also woos Domino, Largo’s mistress.

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Sean Connery is James Bond. I don’t feel the need to keep repeating myself in my reviews for his outings as 007. We all know he’s charismatic, suave and delivers comedic one-liners when bad guys bite the big one. None of that changes in THUNDERBALL. What is a bit of a downer is that Domino is a beautiful, but ultimately forgettable Bond girl. She simply shows up to be the damsel-in-distress and has a couple of seductive scenes with Bond. There’s no other reason for her existence. Though she’s gorgeous, Domino is one of my least-favorite Bond girls right next to Mary Goodnight (in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and Pam Bouvier (from LICENCE TO KILL). The three SPECTRE agents serve their purpose of supplying entertaining showdowns and quippy dialogue exchanges with Bond. My favorite of three is Fiona Volpe who serves as (in my opinion) the most skilled and deadly of the bunch. The main antagonist is the eye-patch-wearing Largo and he’s pretty bland. Complete with a pool of man-eating sharks and a secret underground lair, Largo is your generic Bond bad guy.

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Much like its main villain, THUNDERBALL’s plot is generic. This feels like DR. NO with a couple of extra villains, more action, and a longer running time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, seeing that there’s still a lot of fun to be had while watching this movie. The opening scene features Bond taking out a SPECTRE agent in drag and then flying away on a jetpack. It’s a wonderful introduction to how crazy the action is this time around. Speaking of which, there are plenty of exciting and impressive sequences. One night-time scene in which Bond breaks into Largo’s base is especially well-done. My personal favorite moment comes in a deadly dance that was later spoofed in the second AUSTIN POWERS film. Finally, there’s an underwater finale that does run a bit too long (with two sets of divers fighting each other over the A-bombs), but also sports admittedly cool effects.

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THUNDERBALL is a fun Bond movie. There’s not much else to say about it. In my ranking of Connery’s 007 stint, this is behind GOLDFINGER and DR. NO, but ahead of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. The action is crazier this time around. The running time is longer. There are three SPECTRE villains, though that doesn’t exactly make for a better movie. THUNDERBALL is small on the plot, but big on the action. This is spy genre goodness that can still be very much enjoyed five decades after its release.

Grade: B+

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1964)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Terence Young

Written by: Richard Maibaum

(based on the novel FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Sean Connery, Daniela Bianchi, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Walter Gotell & Vladek Sheybal

The second Bond film and sixth in my 007 retrospective, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE came hot off the heels of DR. NO‘s success. Seeing that the first Bond flick made a huge splash both in Britain and overseas, the budget for RUSSIA was doubled and the story takes place directly after the events of DR. NO. While it maintains a steady level of entertainment, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is a little short on story and (once again) underutilizes an interesting villain. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good, but this Bond sequel suffers from a case of “sequelitis” that plagues most follow-ups in cinema.

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In DR. NO, secret agent James Bond dispatched the title villain who was a member of SPECTRE (a top-secret organization of terrorists and high-ranking criminals). This second film finds SPECTRE unhappy with their Dr. No’s demise and looking to get revenge on James Bond. The evil organization recruits naïve Soviet cipher clerk Romanova to seduce James Bond. They also assign deadly assassin Grant to kill 007 in a particularly humiliating way. Bond is sent to meet the defecting Romanova by MI6 and finds himself tangled in a torrid romance…with SPECTRE watching his every move.

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It goes without saying that Sean Connery slips right back into the character of James Bond. I’m pretty sure that he could play this charismatic secret agent in his sleep. Connery’s performance is the best part of this sequel that can essentially be summed up in one sentence. It’s 007 walking into a trap. That’s the whole plot. However, the romance between Bond and Romanova is enjoyable to watch and especially risqué for this time period (considering that we almost see a full-blown sex scene between the two of them). Daniela Bianchi is enjoyable as Bond’s femme fatale and lover who begins to form legitimate feelings for her target. The action is more special effects driven this time around and the final third really packs in a ton of explosions and fights. One scene, midway through, features a gypsy camp erupting into fiery chaos and is especially impressive…though arguably more than a little politically incorrect.

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Aside from Connery’s Bond, the second-best part of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is Robert Shaw (who I mainly know as Quint) as the assassin hunting 007. Though he has notable moments, especially one tense showdown in a train car during the final third, I couldn’t help but feel that Shaw’s hitman was a tad underused. Just as much screen time (if not slightly more) is devoted to people pulling the strings at SPECTRE and I didn’t find any of them to be as interesting or intimidating as Shaw’s killer. However, the movie becomes totally entertaining for entirely unexpected reasons in the final third. Instead of being suspenseful, the movie goes into all-out campy territory in a good way. We get a faceless cat-stroking head of SPECTRE and Bond fighting an old woman (dressed as a maid) with a venous knife attached to her shoe. That scene is unintentionally hilarious, but fit right into the 007 franchise for the sheer absurdity of it.

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FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE suffers from typical problems that come with most movie sequels. As a direct follow-up to DR. NO and not fully a standalone feature (like many later Bond films), RUSSIA uses a flimsy plotline as an excuse to pack in some big action. The romance between the iconic secret agent and this Russian Bond girl is enjoyable to watch. Robert Shaw’s assassin is underutilized on the whole, but stands as a memorable Bond villain nonetheless. The innerworkings of SPECTRE are goofy to watch and the final third is pretty much made of camp. Taken as a whole, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is good, dumb fun. However, there are far better 007 films in the series.

Grade: B

LICENCE TO KILL (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 13 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Action Violence and Drug Content

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Directed by: John Glen

Written by: Michael G. Wilson & Richard Maibaum

Starring: Timothy Dalton, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae & Benicio Del Toro

The sixteenth film in the 007 cannon and the fifth in my eleven review retrospective, LICENCE TO KILL was described to me as a darker, grittier Bond. I can’t deny that this film is more violent than its predecessors and has a particularly grim storyline, but I can say that the movie seems to forget the sense of big fun entertainment and welcomed pieces of humor. I never thought I could dislike a Bond movie more than MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (with the possible exception of MOONRAKER), but LICENCE TO KILL is the worst Bond movie that I’ve sat through thus far. Say what you will about Roger Moore (who was bad in GOLDEN GUN and solid in SPY WHO LOVED ME), but he’s ten times more charismatic and enjoyable to watch than Timothy Dalton’s 007. The sad part is I love Dalton in other films, but James Bond he is not. LICENCE TO KILL takes what was once charming entertainment and turns it into something ugly, dull and depressing.

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James Bond has been assigned to help the DEA take down vicious drug lord Franz Sanchez. Their assignment seems to be a sterling success, but Sanchez quickly bribes his way out of captivity. In retaliation for his capture, Sanchez feeds one of 007’s colleagues to a shark and rapes said colleague’s wife. This results in 007 flying off the deep end with a vendetta to take down Sanchez. MI6 sees this newly enraged Bond as a possible risk for their organization and Bond goes rogue as a result. So rogue 007 is chasing down a violent drug dealer with the help of a typically beautiful Bond girl and that’s about the entire plot to this film right there.

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While there are plenty of problems to be addressed in the script itself, I’m going to go over the cast first. I said it before, but Dalton just isn’t Bond. Aside from a couple of half-assed one-liners, this isn’t the secret agent that we all came to know and love through countless wild adventures. Instead, Bond has now been transformed into a brooding anti-hero of sorts and it doesn’t mesh well with the series or work as a standalone. Other Bond characters have brief cameos (Q, M, Moneypenny) as if to remind us that this is still a Bond movie, but their appearances are inconsequential. The Bond girl is played by Carey Lowell and I’d say her character name but that detail doesn’t really matter since all she does is pop up when its convenient for the plot. Even her little attempts at humor fall flat, though she’s appropriately gorgeous (much like the many other Bond girls of the series). The worst performance comes in the villain. This bland cartel is a boring baddie. I didn’t find him threatening or menacing even if he does have a constant sneer on his face. I think the only thing that really qualifies him as a Bond villain is that he has a pet shark and a case of exotic maggots. Honestly, I would have preferred the young Benicio Del Toro’s henchman (who pops up twice) as the main villain.

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The plot of LICENCE doesn’t feel like a Bond adventure. There are no ridiculous world-ending stakes and only a couple of quality action scenes. The story feels like a script that might have been penned for Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme and 007 was thrown in as an afterthought. The biggest cliché is that the movie is driven forward by the death of Bond’s partner/friend. This is the same overused plot point from countless 80’s cop films. It just feels like a cheap excuse for a story to progress forward. Also, the absent sense of humor sours the mix as well. While most of the Bond films I’ve seen have been intense, action-packed and fun, LICENCE TO KILL focuses more on being overtly violent and unpleasant. The end result is that it lacks the Bond essence that makes this series so enjoyable to begin with. That being said, there’s one solid chase scene near the end involving a couple of semi-trucks that was well done and stands out as the only highlight of the film.

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LICENCE TO KILL may be in cannon with the rest of the 007 franchise, but I really wouldn’t call this a true James Bond film. If you took 007 out of the story, this would be yet another one of those generic 80’s action movies that you catch on late-night cable. One great action sequence aside, this film is downright boring and dull. I just couldn’t get invested in it, especially when clichés were running rampant. Dalton’s mediocre performance as Bond didn’t help anything either. At the very least, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN was watchable in a cinematic trainwreck sort of way (with third nipples, an over-the-top comedic Sheriff, and Christopher Lee delivering the only good performance of that film). LICENCE TO KILL is outright dull and makes me wish never to watch another of Dalton’s 007 films.

Grade: D

THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Lewis Gilbert

Written by: Christopher Wood & Richard Maibaum

Starring: Roger Moore, Barbara Bach, Curd Jurgens, Richard Kiel, Caroline Munro, Walter Gotell & Bernard Lee

The tenth 007 film in the series and the fourth in my 11-film retrospective before SPECTRE, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is often regarded as one of the best Bond movies of all-time. I’ll admit that I was a bit hesitant to watch this film, because Roger Moore was playing Bond and I didn’t buy him as the suave secret agent at all in THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. That being said, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is probably the shining star of Moore’s time as Bond. Besides a better performance from the leading man this time around, SPY is elevated thanks to an interesting plot, a good balance of humor and romance as well as a fantastic villain with a diabolical world-ending plan.

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James Bond is investigating two mysterious submarine disappearances (one British, one Soviet). His new assignment takes him to Egypt in order to buy some advanced tracking technology, but he encounters a couple of problems during this mission. These problems come in the form of KGB agent Anya Amasova and a hulking assassin known as Jaws. Through a twist of fate, Anya and Bond are forced to become temporary partners in order to stop a madman from starting WWIII. Literal sparks fly during confrontations against the enemy and romantic sparks fly between the pair of spies.

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I really didn’t like Roger Moore as 007 in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. It seemed like he was entirely wrong for the iconic character and instead came off as an unconvincing, comedic action hero. Somehow, between GOLDEN GUN and SPY WHO LOVED ME, I think someone opened Roger Moore up and flipped a charismatic switch, because this doesn’t feel like the same actor who I loathed in the previous film. He’s much more serious this time around and still finds a way to deliver sarcastic one-liners in an entertaining way. Another benefit comes in Moore being paired with a lovable leading lady this time around. Barbara Beach does extremely well as a character with two distinct sides. She’s a rival KGB agent and also serves as Bond’s romantic interest. Tensions are high between the Bond and Anya, but you cannot deny their chemistry. The two are so enjoyable to watch that they make scenes consisting entirely of cheesy flirting into something very entertaining. That certainly doesn’t mean that there aren’t ridiculous-sounding pieces of dialogue, but these silly lines are all part of the fun.

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Obviously, a Bond flick isn’t all about romance and SPY boasts two fantastic villains. Curd Jurgens plays Karl Stromberg. Instead of stroking a cat, this madman prefers the company of exotic pet fish. He also has a great way of disposing those who displease him with the help of a trained man-eating shark. Jurgens chews the scenery in a good way and seems to know exactly how to play his sophisticated maniac. Aiding Jurgens is Richard Kiel as the strong, silent Jaws. This hitman is a literal iron-jawed, unstoppable opponent. While Bond takes out plenty of random henchmen in exciting action scenes (one of which is set to ironic music in Egypt), he and Anya have constant confrontations with Jaws. Each fight is more intense than the last and it certainly helps that Jaws is probably one of the most unusual henchmen in the whole damn series (I’m including Oddjob when I say that).

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The whole adventured is capped off with a final third that seems to be constructed almost entirely of action. With explosions galore, shoot-outs and a tense defusing of a nuclear missile, SPY WHO LOVED ME never feels boring or repetitive at all. This is probably Moore’s best stint as Bond and the story takes place on a grand scale. The final scenes of SPY WHO LOVED ME almost take an unexpected, tragic conclusion and then opt a happier, more uplifting choice. This final moment feels cheesy, much like certain pieces of the dialogue between the otherwise convincing Moore and Bach. THE SPY WHO LOVED ME is a silly spy adventure, but remains a thrilling and exciting one the whole way through.

Grade: A-

THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Guy Hamilton

Written by: Richard Maibaum & Tom Mankiewicz

(based on the novel THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN by Ian Fleming)

Starring: Roger Moore, Christopher Lee, Britt Ekland, Maud Adams, Herve Villechaize, Richard Loo, Soon-Tek Oh & Bernard Lee

The ninth Bond film in the franchise and third choice in my retrospective (of 11 planned reviews) before SPECTRE arrives in November, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is often referred to by fans and critics alike as one of the worst movies in the series. It’s nowhere near as ridiculous as MOONRAKER, but GOLDEN GUN wastes a potentially great premise by trying to mix other genres into its plot and winding up with an uneven mess as a result. Instead of simply trying to be a fun spy movie, this 1974 Bond entry also attempts to cash in on the kung-fu craze (that was big at the time) and frequently uses too much over-the-top comedy. What potentially cool plot was screwed up on its journey from script to screen?…

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A golden bullet has arrived at MI6 with “007” scratched into it. The secret organization believes that James Bond has been targeted by world-famous assassin Francisco Scaramanga. As a result, Bond is ejected from MI6 and takes to the streets of Beirut and Bangkok to find why this mysterious hitman wants him dead. The only problem is that 007 doesn’t have a clue as to what the man looks like, other than the assassin having a third nipple on his chest. Eventually, a cat-and-mouse game between Scaramanga and Bond erupts with a bland conspiracy that you don’t really care about at the center.

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After Sean Connery retired from being Bond, Roger Moore took on the role for the next seven films in the series. To say that Moore was a bad choice is an understatement. I’m judging strictly off of his performance in MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN, but he appears to lack any of the charisma or charm that Connery had. He feels much more like a typical action hero than the suave secret agent that 007 is meant to be. Bond’s smart-aleck one-liners don’t hit nearly as well either due to Moore’s wooden line delivery. If Roger Moore is the most annoying Bond that I’ve seen thus far, then Britt Ekland is by far the worst Bond girl. Her ditsy persona and one-note personality come off as downright annoying. However, she isn’t nearly as horrible as Clifton James’s Sheriff Pepper. This loud-mouthed, Southern-fried comic relief character is actually recurring from LIVE AND LET DIE (the previous Bond film) and somehow became a fan favorite. His scenes are brief in this film, but he still manages to be aggravating in his own backwards way.

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The best part of this ninth 007, without a doubt, comes in Christopher Lee as the villainous Francisco Scaramanga. His secret lair is over-the-top and so is his midget sidekick, but Scaramanga comes off as an interesting Bond baddie nonetheless. Lee manages to salvage a bit of every scene he’s in based purely off his screen presence and acting ability. Neither of these qualities are enough to make up for MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN ruining a potentially awesome premise with oddball tonal shifts into kung fu and comedic territory. About halfway into this film, Bond gets into a fight with a pair of sumo wrestlers and gives one of them a wedgie. He also attends a martial arts tournament. These scenes don’t even feel like they belong in a Bond adventure at all. The cheap sense of humor can be summed up in one moment. Bond disguises himself as Scaramanga by adding a prosthetic third nipple to his chest and reveals it with a musical cue. When he disregards the latex nipple into the bushes, he says “titillating.” I feel that moment speaks volumes by itself.

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The most disappointing thing about MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is how great this movie might have been. You have James Bond facing off against an insane hitman with Christopher Lee in the title role. However, the movie bogs itself down with cheap shots at humor (as opposed to genuinely funny one-liners), a Bond without charisma in Roger Moore and a script that too often exploits the kung-fu craze that was big at the time. MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN doesn’t want to be a Bond movie and suffers for that. I’m sure there are worse Bond flicks (I hear that MOONRAKER and DIE ANOTHER DAY are both terrible), but MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is the first major disappointment I’ve had in this franchise thus far.

Grade: C-

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